Agricultural Economics Department


Date of this Version

September 1996


Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kenneth R. Bolen, Director of Cooperative Extension, University of Nebraska, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension educational programs abide with the non-discrimination policies of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the United States Department of Agriculture.


Farmers have adopted a variety of new irrigation practices and technologies in recent years. These practices generally have led to better yields per unit of applied water, reduced labor, improved profits, and have often produced positive environmental impacts. Environmental improvements result from irrigation practices which reduce runoff or deep percolation below the root zone, hence reducing surface and groundwater pollution from pesticides and fertilizer.

Recently, a mail survey was sent to 5,000 irrigators in Nebraska, resulting in 898 useable returns. This survey provided information on how irrigators decided when to irrigate and how they determined the amount of water applied. Those irrigators using gravity irrigation methods were also surveyed about their use of surge values, alternate row irrigation, short set times, differential flow rates between hard and soft rows, and about management differences between the first and subsequent irrigations.

Adoption of irrigation management practices can affect application uniformity, runoff, the amount of water that will be leached below the root zone, and the amount of water that is effectively used by the crop as evapotranspiration. Survey results concerning the use of alternative practices are useful for educational program development and for environmental policy analyses.

Irrigators were asked how they decided when to irrigate and how they measured the amount of water applied. Good irrigation management requires consideration of soil moisture conditions, rainfall, and crop water requirements to decide when to irrigate. Careful measurement of the amount of water applied is also necessary for good management.